The Washington state Senate just passed a new bill that would increase criminal penalties for robbing legal cannabis businesses.
Senate Bill 5927 would add an additional year to the prison sentence of anyone convicted of first- or second-degree burglary of a cannabis retailer. Washington already adds an additional year of prison time to convictions for robbing a traditional pharmacy. The state Senate passed the bill last week, and it will now advance to the state House for debate.
“The number of robberies of cannabis stores is on the rise, and this bill would make improvements for not just the benefit of the retailers themselves, but for the public safety of the community as a whole,” the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jim Honeyford (R), told KING 5 News.
“When people would ask the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, ‘Because that's where the money is.’ Well, that’s why people rob marijuana retailers,” Honeyford explained. “Due to federal banking rules, these businesses are almost entirely cash-only operations, making them a target for robberies and a magnet for criminals.”
Under current federal law, any financial institution that opens a bank account, offers a loan, or otherwise provides a service to anyone that handles illegal drugs can be charged with money laundering. As a result, state-legal weed businesses are forced to conduct all of their sales and tax payments in cash, making them an ideal target for robberies.
During the 2020 protests against the police killings of George Floyd and countless other people of color, legal cannabis stores, cultivation facilities, and even extraction labs were hit by a wave of robberies. But despite strong evidence that these burglaries were carefully planned and coordinated, cops wrote it off as “looting” and failed to investigate further. Cops have also been caught looking the other way during a recent string of raids on legal weed shops in San Francisco and Oakland.
Oregon police did manage to bust a major organized crime ring that was specifically targeting cannabis businesses in the Pacific Northwest, though. But despite the success of this raid, Washington's cannabis stores are still being burgled. In the past three months, criminals have robbed at least 30 Washington weed businesses, according to Tom Bout, founder of the Cannabis Professionals Network.
Bout told KING 5 that he doesn't think the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is doing enough to warn businesses about the recent wave of robberies. "They have not communicated with the stores,” he said. “Like, you'd think that they would put on an alert to let everyone know that this has happened.” A spokesperson for the board said that they are warning local cannabis companies to hire armed guards, make more frequent cash deposits, and take other steps to secure their businesses, though.
The US House of Representatives has passed legislation that would protect banks that want to serve the cannabis industry on six separate occasions, but the US Senate has yet to advance these reforms. Without these protections in place, cannabis businesses still have to store large amounts of cash on their premises, and therefore remain a prime target for burglars.
The lack of federal action has forced adult-use states to resolve these issues themselves. Portland, Oregon just approved $1.3 million in grants for pot businesses that have been damaged by wildfires or robberies, and San Francisco temporarily suspended local cannabis taxes to help businesses recover from a recent wave of organized crime.